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Your Favorite Productivity Books

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Your Favorite Productivity Books
Productivity Books Recommendations

    Last week, I asked you to recommend your favorite productivity book to a friend or colleague you saw struggling to keep on top of thing. You responded with several great suggestions which I’ll recap below.

    Of course, the idea was somewhat contrived — hopefully you don’t go around handing out book recommendations to everyone you see struggling (unless you’re that guy). Sometimes we offer a little tip, a piece of advice culled from some book or from our own experience, or at the other extreme we might suggest an organization coach. And, of course, reading about productivity and organization isn’t for everyone; you may know people who would be better served by a video, a lecture, or a workshop.

    Still, I think it’s an interesting question to launch our “We Ask, You Answer” series with, since many of us read a variety of books seeking advice on productivity, organization, and overall life success. I half expected a string of responses saying the same thing — David Allen’s Getting Things Done — but I was pleasantly surprised at the range of books people recommended.

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    I (foolishly?) promised to offer my own favorite in my follow-up post, and I’ve spent the last week thinking of what I could offer here. My post on Charles Mingus’ Beneath the Underdog, Improvise Like a Jazz Musician, was one outcome of that process, as I pushed myself to think creatively about the limits of the genre of personal productivity literature. But I’d hardly recommend Beneath the Underdog to anyone struggling to get a grip on a runaway schedule! It’s a brilliant piece of work, but not exactly down-to-earth advice.

    Instead, I have to pick exactly what I was afraid everyone else would pick: Getting Things Done. Personal honesty precludes any other choice, since I actually have given copies of GTD to three people. It’s not the system, though — I don’t practice anything all that close to “orthodox” GTD. What I like about Allen’s book is the matter-of-fact, common sense way he approaches the problem of personal productivity. The core message of Getting Things Done is, in my estimation:

    We all have a bunch of stuff to do, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to wrangle it all into some sort of order. So stop worrying so much about keeping track of everything; write it down, and do it.

    The rest is, as they say, commentary. The tickler file, the inboxes, the 2-minute rule, the contexts, the someday/maybe list, the 10,000/20,000/30,000/etc. foot views, all of it. The main problem I see others dealing with, and the problem Allen directly deals with, is the anxiety people face when they begin to feel overwhelmed and start doubting whether they’re keeping on top of all their obligations.

    Several of you (Justin Prud’homme, Ravindran, Jens Poder, and Chat) agreed, at least about the book if not about the reasons. Justin also recommended Allen’s follow-up, Ready for Anything, a collection of 52 meditations/advices that expand ideas brought up in Getting Things Done. Chat bought a copy of GTD for her mother for Christmas (hopefully mom doesn’t read lifehack! At least, not until Christmas…), agreeing that it’s not the whole system that’s important but the approach to remembering and prioritizing tasks that makes the biggest impact in many people’s lives.

    Jens Poder made an interesting and, I think, useful distinction between “personal leadership” and “personal efficiency”, recommending GTD to people who need to get a grip on their personal organizational habits and Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Effective People for people whose issues lay less in getting things done and more in creating and implementing a vision. Vamsi agreed with Jens’ recommendation, calling 7 Habits “the bible” of personal productivity.

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    As Jens says, GTD and 7 Habits are “the usual suspects”, but for good reason: many people have found their lives improved by reading these books and following the principles Allen and Covey outline. But they are far from being the only books out there, and you came up with lots of other books offering different strategies and different philosophies for taking charge of your out-of-control life. Some of these I’ve read, but many I had not only not read but had never even heard of, so it was doubly interesting for me to read your responses.

    Teknitis and Kevin X both recommended lifehack contributor Leo Babauta’s new e-book Zen to Done, which offers a “boiled down” take on the GTD system, with a few twists. I’m just starting to read this, and will offer a full review here at lifehack later on. If you’ve read Leo’s work, though, either here or at his blog Zen Habits, you know that Leo has a likeable and approachable writing voice and a real kind of wisdom in his writings; Zen to Done looks to be more of the same, focused tightly around the question of personal productivity habits.

    Another book with multiple recommendations was Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit, which drew attention from both KRS and Jan. Fiore’s approach deals with some of the underlying issues that cause us to overload ourselves with work and then procrastinate getting it done; as KRS says, you have to deal with this stuff before any system is going to have much of a result.

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    Both Kevin and RDH recommended Timothy Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week, which runs a close runner-up for the top place on my own list. Ferris is a remarkable character, and has managed to free up his life so that he can follow his own muse, wherever it leads him, while still making a decent living. Central to his book is the idea of mini-retirements — why work your whole life for a retirement you’re too old to enjoy, when you can explore the world now and still earn enough to live well. 4HWW is definitely inspirational, and a must-read in my opinion for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

    Rounding up the rest of the titles, we have:

    • 101 Ways to have a Business and a Life by Andrew Griffiths. Tully recommended this, saying it has “plenty of practical stuff for business owners and consultants”.
    • Time Power by Charles R Hobbs. Charles says Hobbs encourages a process of “firmly establishing ‘unifying principles’, developing goals which have ‘congruity’ with these principles, and applying a ‘concentration of power’ to work those things which are most important”. Apparently this one is out of print, but nowadays there’s plenty of ways to get your hands on an out-of-print book.
    • Steve recommended his own article How to Supercharge Your Productivity.
    • The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. According to Marie, who recommended this one, Loehr and Schwartz remind us that it’s not only ok to slow down and take a breath once in a while, but that it’s crucial!
    • TexasEx94 recommends Seize the Workday and Total Workday Control by Michael Linenberger; Craig Huggart seconds the recommendation for Total Workday Control, calling it “the best book on getting up to speed quickly with the Getting Things Done system”.
    • Glenn recommends The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker for anyone in management. I haven’t read this one, but am currently working my way through The Daily Drucker, a collection of quotes, tips, and observations on working more effectively. There’s a lot of good stuff there, which is about what you’d expect from a man who lived and worked for nearly a century.
    • Sangreal recommends two books by Mark Foster: Get Everything Done and Still Have Time To Play for the person who’s drowning and needs an immediate lifeline, and Do It Tomorrow for the person who’s not quite buried but needs a little push to get the most out of their days.
    • Sangreal also made the seemingly odd recommendation of books on organization for people with ADHD. I actually picked up a book for ADHD sufferers by accident at the library one time, and to be honest, there was quite a lot of good advice there. More and more, we live in an “ADHD world”, so even if you’re not an “official” ADHD patient, much of the advice that applies to them is likely to apply to you as well.
    • And last but not least, L.H. suggests we have a look at Tony Robbins’ Time of your Life.

    Thanks to everyone for their recommendations — there’s a lot here to expand the personal productivity bookshelf of any GTD’er, and with Christmas coming up and Hannukah already well underway, perhaps this list will give you some ideas for gifts for your own frazzled friends and family members!

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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